J’accuse: The One Before Christmas


This article appeared in The Malta Independent on Sunday. 

The Weekly Intro
It is tempting at this time of the year to revisit all that has happened over the past calendar year. If anything it is a brilliant excuse to fill the columns of the papers as the political foreacast goes all jolly and christmassy and hot news items become as rare a find as the bigfoot. Not that there is absolutely nothing to talk about from what I could gather between my visits to central Europe’s Christmas markets and my flying back home. Of course a controversy about a road in Ghadira and the ongoing conundrum as to whether a foreign architect should be allowed to grace the entrance to our magnificent capital with his particular perspective are not the juiciest of stories against which a columnist can sharpen his pen.

I decided to forego the exercise of summarising events of the past year if only to leave that job for Boxing Day when I will probably be impeded from walking any distance above fifty meters without adult supervision thanks to the copious abundance of food that mother will have so lovingly prepared for Christmas. Ah the joys of Seasonal Food. The Christmas Markets provided the right “assaggino” and I particularly relished the “Quiche aux Escargots” that I got to taste in the market in Strasbourg. As I chatted with the market stall owner while the lovely quiche and snails warmed in the oven we exchanged interesting advice on the culinary habits of our respective countries and our respect for all that is slimy and in a shell. 

The Cheese that Smells of Socks
Snail in a pie might not exactly be everybody’s cup of tea but believe you me it tastes heavenly. Those French really know how to tickle the palate the right way don’t they? I had an awkward feeling this time round as soon as I settled in my Paceville flat. It had nothing to do with the snails that had been ingested last Sunday but rather with a form of inverse saudade. The fridge in my flat seemed to miss something important that would come in useful over the season – essentially it was the platter of fine cheeses that could be attacked at any moment of the day while cuddled up in front of the tv or showing off on some game station – a habit I picked up in Luxembourg!

Don’t worry… the lacuna des gourmandises was instantly placated by a quick visit to the best supermarket this side of Calabria and stocking up on French and British finest. The list was as lovely as the shopping bag was stinky… from the creamy heart of the Saint Nectaire to the putrid aroma of the Petit Livarot, from the sumptuous Lemon Zest Wellesley chunk to the regimental blue-striped Morbier, the ever popular pepato to the snobbish perfume of a truffled Savarin. They are all there. On standby. Ready to march out onto a platter and be consumed in the company of gluten-free crackers, cumberland sauces and the unmissable rillettes de porc and mousse de canard a l’orange.

This too is what you can talk about in Christmas… and I was only getting started. I have scarcely had time to mention the array of saucisses (sausages) I brought back from Alsace. They have this remarkable way of flavouring a simple pork sausage with a variety of tastes thus creating a lovely accompaniment for your cheese. If you are ever in the region (and that includes the Ardennes, Luxembourg and Lorraine – not to mention Ze Germans who love their pork as much we do) look out for the sausages tasting of Beaujolais, of Morbier, Roquefort, Thyme, and Figs. Heavenly. Trust me…. Meanwhile let’s see what else has been afoot…

The President who dodged the Shoes

The news item of the week must be the Bush Dodging Shoes incident. It is a gift on a plate for such bloggers like the undersigned who feast on the opportunity of playing with words, puns and euphemisms. I was incommunicado for most of the past week so news of the fact that outgoing President Bush was the victim of an attempted attack by shoes during a news conference only started to reach me on Thursday. Meanwhile the name Muntadhar Al Zaidi is on the verge of achieving cult status. This is the man who, during a press conference being given by President Bush (USA) and Nouri al-Maliki (Iraq), decided to slip off his size 10 (42 European) loafers and hurl them at Dubya while yelling “This is a farewell kiss from the Iraqi people, you dog” (right shoe) and then “This is for the widows and orphans and all those killed in Iraq” (left shoe) before being pinned to the ground by overzealous bodyguards.

I know I should not be saying this but I found it fantastic. I replayed the YouTube video a hundred times. What a way to get your 15 minutes of fame. Dubya dodged the shoes with the professionalism of one who is used to dodging the truth. It was the same Dubya who reacted nonchalantly when reminded that Al Qaeda had no real presence in Iraq before US interference. The same Dubya who has invested $117bn in Iraq since the war to repristinate it to the same condition it was in BEFORE the war started. No wonder Al Zaidi was hurling his shoes with such force and passion.

The throwing of shoes and baring of feet is quite an insult in the Middle East. There’s this whole thing about shoes and respect. We did read about “great” leaders in the past who banged their shoes in important places in order to attract attention – but hurling them at someone? Ah there’s another story. In Arab and Islamic countries the throwing of shoes is an act of extreme disrespect. Al Zaidi is now being tried for the equivalent of the crime of Laese maiestatis – the ultimate crime of inuring the majesty (the head of state). The web is rife with speculation whether or not he is liable to imprisonment of anything between two years to life.

Had he endangered the life of the President of Malta by bodily harm he would have been triable under article 55 of our Criminal Code… one punishable by life imprisonment. As it happened the attempt on life (or at least dignity) was on President Dubya and whatever dignity that particular president has left. I am not too convinced about interpreting it as an attempt on the life of Dubya… after all what could Al Zaidi be hoping for … death by verucas? A particularly harmful strain of athlete’s foot? Nah. 

The Shame of Going Barefoot
Appearing before an Iraqi judge early on Friday, superstar Al Zaidi showed signs of beatings that might or might not be attributable to overzealous reaction by the Presidential guards. He has already apologised for his “big, ugly act” of throwing his shoes in public. It just about gives you an idea of how shameful this whole business of throwing shoes and bare feet is in that part of the world. For a similar interesting insight into cultures of the region look no further than the Bible. Deuteronomy 25:5-9 will give you an understanding of how shoes and barefeet are related to respect…

In essence what the particular Mosaic law says is that if a woman who has just been widowed is refused by her deceased husband’s brother (who is basically supposed to sleep with her to continue his brother’s lineage) then she has a right to complain to the city elders. Should the brother still refuse before the elders to provide an offspring to his dead brother’s wife then he shall be punished… how? Aha… here it is: “

Little wonder that on the 25th of December we will hear the whole “begat business” in the Gospel. With all those guarantees for ensuring a continued lineage there was little worry that the family tree would not grow large and branches grow a plenty. It was either that or the loose shoe and spit in the face treatment. And frankly… who want’s to go around with such a nickname as “the barefoot one”?

The Little News that’s Left
One eager beaver of a politician sent my family a calendar this Christmas. One of the foldable sides of the calendar included a whole advert to the efforts of this politician last election – apparently his paperless campaign had led to 15 trees being planted or saved. I never quite get these complex ecological equations – why not plant another two or three? Or is it that by not using paper he saved 15 trees? In any case… my question is… why the change of mind? What makes Christmas different? Why send papers round to our house this time round? I mean it’s not like we are voting are we? Besides what with all the poor trees fulfilling their lifetime ambition of spending a few weeks in your living room decorated with lights (energy saving) before dying off I would have thought this would be more of a season to save on the paper.

Out in the real world where politicians’ bluffs on saving the world are regularly called, Time Magazine has just invested Barack Obama as the Time Personality of the year. I am proud to hand over the baton of personality of the year to the man that promises to bring change to the world come next year. Before you go checking on previous awards in order to make sure that Jacques Rene Zammit was not personality of the year let me just reassure you by telling you that I shared the prize with a million others. In fact, in 2006 the personality of the year was the blogger… every one of us. Not kidding at all.

The Appeal for Donations 
I haven’t got much left to say except to wish all you kind readers a very Merry Christmas. It might be harsh economic times that we are passing through but do not forget that there are people living off a much worse situation right now. Spare a thought and more than some change for these people too. We will go on “struggling” with our daily troubles but for some others it is more of a matter of life and death. Instead of the usual weekly blog plug I’d like to plug a site that does wonders with that little bit of money you can spare: http://www.oxfam.org.uk/ Try the unwrapped gifts section and before you know it you might be making a poor family happy by buying them a goat this Christmas!

Tell you what… I’ll race you to it… last one to donate is a barefoot Iraqi journalist!

The Shameless Plug
Allow me this addendum. If like me you particularly like the works of Bertu the toonist that adorn the weekly outpourings of wisdom on these pages then you might be interested in ordering a copy of the 2009 Bertoons for J’accuse Calendar. Links to the calendar may be found on the Bertoons site: http://www.bertoons.com.

Jacques has been generally absent from https://jaccuse.wordpress.com this week. There’s no harm in taking a pause from the net and enjoying the seasonal spirit. Merry Christmas to all J’accusers!


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